Sunday, February 8, 2015

Magnetic Video and the Birth of the Video Store

In a 1970 piece written for the New Yorker, Lillian Ross spotlighted executive Samuel Gelfman, and the new invention he would soon offer to the world: Cartrivision. What is Cartrivision, you might ask? Well, it's two things, really. It's the precursor to both commercially available VHS and Beta tapes, and it's also a color television and subscription service ala Netflix. The plan was to sell the Cartrivision set, which retailed for $1350, in stores such as Macy's, Montgomery Ward, and Sears.

early movie video player
Cartrivision 1970
The square Cartrivision cassettes had two half inch reels and could record 114 minutes. Initially 200 movies were offered for rental, including Dr. Strangelove, High Noon, and Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. They could be played, but had to be returned to the retailer to be rewound. The cost of the Cartrivision television and rentals made it cost-prohibitive, and after 13 months Cartrivion went out of business in 1973. It is reported most of their movies had disintegrated in an insufficiently cooled warehouse. 

It wasn't until 1977 when Magnetic Video Corporation began releasing recorded motion pictures for personal use on both the Beta and VHS format. Magnetic Video founder Andre Blay approached cash-strapped 20th Century Fox and convinced them to allow him to release fifty of their titles, which Blay sold via his Video Club of America where he didn't rent, but sold his titles by catalogue. 

That same year an entrepreneur named George Atkison opened the first "video store" in America by purchasing one copy each of all of Video Club of America's titles in both the VHS and Beta format and renting them from his storefront in Los Angeles to members of his Video Station rental company who paid either a $50 yearly fee or $100 lifetime membership. A membership allowed a member to rent any of the titles for $10 a day. 

Over the next four years Magnetic Video added titles from Viacom, Embassy, ABC, and finally Warner Brothers and United Artists. Eventually 20th Century Fox purchased Magnetic Video, and it was eventually renamed 20th Century Fox Video.

By mid 1985 the United States had gone from that one video store location at 12011 Wilshire Blvd. to 15,000 locations, which seemed to be everywhere, including supermarkets, gas stations, and laundromats.  Pin It
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